People access music in different ways throughout their lives. In school, music class, choir and/or band is often a part of children's curriculum. As they get older, they start to develop personal tastes and listen to their favorite musical artists and bands. People listen to music on the radio, live in concert, on the television, and movies and just about everywhere else. Whether it's in the foreground or just used as background, music can be a huge part of a person's life. Songs, musical compositions, lyrics and other related components frequently have emotional attachments and can instantly trigger memories.

Music therapy keeps brains active
As people age, their brain function tends to decrease. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia increases as well as the loss of cognitive function. The good news is that there are steps people can take to reduce these risks. One such step is to participate in music therapy.

The American Music Therapy Association said, "Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program."

Essentially, music can improve health and wellness.

CNN reported that according to the Alzheimer's Association, the number of people aged 65 and older suffering from Alzheimer's disease is expected to almost triple by 2050 from 5 million to 13.8 million. In addition, research has shown that keeping the brain active may slow the risk of developing dementia by up to five years.

Music therapy can be used to manage stress, enhance memory, improve communication and offer interaction opportunities, according to the American Music Therapy Association. This sort of therapy helps with rehabilitation, increases people's motivation to engage, offers emotional support and creates an outlet for expressing feelings.

"If you can delay the presentation (of dementia) by five years, then you add an extra five years of functioning to an individual at the end of the life span,"  Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, assistant professor of neurology at Emory University, who studies cognitive functioning among musicians, told CNN.

Music memories stay intact
Music therapy stimulates the parts of the brain that associate with music. In people with impaired cognitive function, the part of the brain that allows direct recall of memories is damaged. Even so, musical memories can indirectly stimulate the portion of the brain that recalls pieces of memories because they are not just associated with the music itself but the events surrounding the song or composition.
"When we hear familiar and preferred music, we mentally follow it," Naomi Ziv of the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion, Israel, told CNN. "It seems that whereas general memory deteriorates in dementia, memory for music remains relatively intact."

Additionally, Psychology Today said that in seniors suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's or another mental complications, music therapy reduces agitation and the symptoms of dementia, improves mood and cooperation with daily tasks like bathing. Music can be soothing and stress relieving as well and has been shown to decrease the risk of heart and brain disease in dementia patients.

The American Music Therapy Association said other benefits of music therapy include:

  • Providing a sense of control over life
  • Awareness of self and environment
  • Alternative options for pain and discomfort management with pharmaceuticals
  • Emotional intimacy
  • Social interaction

People, no matter what age, should pay attention the next time their favorite song comes in the radio. Consciously experiencing what happens to them mentally and emotionally when they hear familiar music will give them an idea of what music therapy can do for people, especially seniors.